When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
So hey. Today is the (a?) National Day of Prayer in the US, or something? Sneaked up on me, too. There are, of course, politics involved and my point in this article isn’t to get into that. It’d be rather short if my only concern were the superficial nods to Christianity that elected leaders offer between bouts of immorality. Gotta get those votes somehow, right?
Anyway, I wanted to talk about religion a little more broadly, relate it to conversations I’ve had recently about members of collectives, stereotypes, and individualism, maybe tie in a little video game reference for good measure.
I’ve seen more than a few light annoyances today such as “why is there a whole national day of prayer? You think you’re the only people in the country?” Sir or ma’am… yesterday was “world play the ukulele day”… There have been sorer irritations in recent times, such as pictures from last year of a flooded Texas hit by the hurricane with one Twitter user (verified, of course) taunting human suffering with: “Where’s your God now?” Another recent groaning has been over “thoughts and prayers”, one TV personality asserting that prayer is a sign of mental illness before retracting the statement and saying she prays too. Beyond that, you see people say “sending my love and positive energy your way” which is long-form for… “thoughts and prayers”.
To clarify my own position, I intercede and supplicate as a Christian but I don’t pray at the behest of politicians, nor do I expect my politicians to just pray. I expect these leaders to lead and protect the safety and happiness of every American citizen. All of this bears clarification, you must realize. That’s because so much is assumed about an individual’s belief based on what group association is perceived to believe. That’s been true about my Christianity, about my love for retro games, about my ethnicity, about my gender, about my age group, about nearly everything about me before people decided to maybe ask what I myself (not my “collective”) actually believe.
I, by definition, don’t fit your narrative. I am an individual. There are too many variables in my life.
One of the persisting stereotypes of religious people is that they’re judgmental (add hypocritical, indifferent, cold, dogmatic, intolerant, and bigoted to that, as well) but I wouldn’t classify all of them as such. I’ve known some very merciful, gracious, and charitable religious people and I’ve known some that weren’t so much. Of course, they’re all sinners anyway so the distinction becomes moot at some point. The message here though is to avoid judging (identifying) individuals by group stereotypes, to “group-think” the individual away by melding them with the nebulous “members of a collective”.
Turns out this is easier to do than we might think. We do it all the time. It’s easiest with those groups we don’t agree with.
Nobody wants to be identified foremost by stereotypes or by a group’s totality. People want to be seen not as numbers or skin colors or worldviews, but as persons. Isn’t that what you want?
Individualism may be on the wane but I certainly want to be thought of for my own opinions and behavior, not for those associated with my group associations. One small part of why I have tried to bring some elements of learning, academia, philosophy, critical studies, and intelligence into something really as simple as reviewing video games is because I wanted to demonstrate that not all Christians are idiots. I had to be the one to stand against echo chambers earlier this year, for crying out loud! That’s not to say I’m the smartest person out there, now. Of course not!
One of the most inspiring things to me about Christianity, though, is the extremely intelligent body of Christian writers throughout history whose works I’ve enjoyed. One of them furnished the quotation that serves as TWRM’s tagline under our header image.
I’m reminded ultimately that this is a gaming site, not a pulpit, so to avoid stumbling into the stereotype of sounding preachy, let me bring up a video game with an example of what I’m talking about to highlight my point and take all these words to their conclusion.
I like video games, if you couldn’t already tell. This is an interesting hobby for me because I’m additionally a Christian and believer in the supernatural/metaphysical. Christianity in particular and organized Western religion as a whole has not had too much of a positive presence in its depiction in gaming. I’m sure you can think of more than a few examples.
Final Fantasy Tactics comes to mind as one proposing corrupted religious writings. Final Fantasy X features a massive religion built on false hope and human sacrifice. Breath of Fire II has at its center the Church of St. Eva which is actually a front for the rise of demons. In recent memory, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 constructed the interesting premise of an Architect and theodicy, why the world was the way it was, and how to regain paradise, only to defuse the difficulty of the question (spoilers: highlight to reveal) by making the Architect just a man. JRPGs have a long history of stuff like this. Even the Badly Backlogged Mage touched on it with his review of Out There Chronicles – Episode One.
I understand these as coming from a culture in Japan that’s historically distrusting of organized Western religion and in the West itself from the loosely defined perspective of atheist creators. What’s more, the biggest conglomerates of organized religion have not had a great track record through history, going all the way back to the Bible itself where the outwardly religious in both the Old and the New Testaments were villainous. Power corrupts, whether secular or sacred.
Well, EarthBound positioned simple prayer as the nail in the coffin for its big bad but perhaps the most positive experience I’ve had in gaming related at all to religion is with Journey, more of a spiritual and emotional experience, really. It’s Breath of Fire II, though, that’s going to give us our analogy.
In Breath of Fire II, there’s a minor non-playable character named Ray, an acolyte of the Church of St. Eva. Ray was once an orphan, taken in by the church and raised in its teachings. When the heroes first encounter him in Capitan, he’s seen charitably helping the townsfolk and he assists in rescuing a child lost in the well, holding back a flood with the power of his magic while everyone else evacuates. He teaches some of your friends a bit of his healing magic, too.
He crops up again in the story now and then but it’s not until the party discovers the dark mission of the Church of St. Eva and confronts its leader Habaraku that Ray becomes a threat, seemingly. Standing between Ryu who is out to stop the advent of demons with his companions and the church that raised him, Ray has a moral crisis to solve. Habaraku orders Ray to kill Ryu and his friends and Ray begins to fight, transforming into a gigantic dragon. During the fight, Ray indirectly teaches Ryu how to utilize his own ultimate dragon transformation and Ryu uses this to defeat Ray. This is the acolyte’s self-sacrifice.
Dying, Ray reveals that he knows about his ties to the dragon clan, the same clan that Ryu is from, the enemies of the church. Ray expresses that he could not turn his back on the church that raised him, though, and his final wish is for Ryu to make a world where there is a god that people can truly believe in.
Ray is an interesting character because he acts on his own will, he’s a freethinker, a rogue. He doesn’t fit into the rules and most importantly, he doesn’t fit the narrative either that everyone in the church is evil or that everyone in the dragon clan is good. He’s a surprisingly human character for such a minor one in a poorly localized 16-bit JRPG. He is precisely the example of seeing the individual ahead of the collective that I’ve been talking about.
So I’m not here to complain about a lack of proper representation in media. I’m not out to stake a claim in pop culture to justify or validate my collective identity. Considering the individual is much broader than that. It bridges upon every group, every collective, every subjective social identity. A lot of us grew up being taught not to care about what other people think but to think of other people first. The point is to look out for the individual, the person among the people.
Maybe one day such a person will save your life?
In your service,
-The Well-Red Mage
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